"There is nothing we can't ship"

Maersk Line’s special cargo segment is seeing unprecedented growth and very comfortable profits. But what is special cargo all about?

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Everything from trams to buses, trains, trucks, tyres, sailing yachts and entire factories are carried with the Maersk Line equivalent of 'oversized baggage'.

Say ’special cargo’ to a Maersk employee not included in Maersk Line’s specialised teams dealing with this vertical, and you are likely to be met with a slightly quizzical look. However, in more ways than one special cargo is actually the weightiest part of the overall Maersk Line business.

Take a seemingly simple item such as tyres. Each year, Maersk Line’s special cargo team ensures the shipment of just under 30,000 tyres for key clients like Michelin and Bridgestone. Not just any tyres though – some of them are so huge that only three will fit into each open 40-foot container, and these will be fitted on some of the most specialised machinery in the mining industry. Special cargo is a segment that truly makes the wheels go round for some of the biggest construction companies in the world.

“It is an very interesting part of Maersk Line’s business, and this vertical can be a third leg supporting dry and reefer business.. We know already that our existing customers appreciate our value proposition such as fast response time, specialist knowledge and rates in line with the market, but we can definitely still do more to increase the market awareness about Maersk Line’s capabilities in this segment,” says Global Head of Special Cargo Nikolaj Forsberg.

With a stable yearly growth rate of 15% over the past three years, there are no immediate signs of a slowdown in the shipping of cargo in odd shapes and sizes.

Very few limitations

When it comes to the limitations of what the special cargo specialists can get on board a Maersk vessel, the very simple rule of thumb is that ‘if the crane can lift it and there is space on the vessel, we can ship it,’ as Nikolaj Forsberg puts it.

His colleague in Houston, Michael Maselli, who deals with customers mainly shipping parts of oil rigs and other very big and heavy materials, is more frank about the lack of limitations for the special cargo experts.

“To be completely honest, I can’t think of anything we are not able to ship unless of course we are talking about something that would be hazardous,” says Michael Maselli.

Browsing through the special cargo photo album, it becomes clear what Maselli is talking about. Everything from trams to buses, trains, trucks, sailing yachts and entire factories are carried with the Maersk Line equivalent to an airline’s ‘oversized baggage’.

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Nikolaj Forsberg emphasises that one of the reasons why the special cargo segment is doing so well is the fact that carrying this type of cargo runs smoothly alongside all other types of Maersk Line business. “There seems to be this perception that carrying special cargo is disruptive to the rest of the Maersk Line business. But it is important to remember that 92% of Special cargo is unitized, for which the load time is equal or less than dry as a global average, when displacements of the cargo is taken into consideration,” Forsberg says.

An expert in the area is Rosemary Roach, also based in Houston, the oil capital of the US. Name one oversized piece of equipment for the oil and gas industry and there is a good chance that Rosemary has been part of ensuring its shipment from Houston to the Middle East, Africa, Azerbaijan or Russia.

“We help our clients move literally everything they need for successfully building plants, factories and rigs within their area of expertise, for instance down-hole drilling at sea or on land. Some shipping projects take years as we make sure all parts are shipped unit by unit from one part of the world to be assembled in another part of the world.”

According to Rosemary, what’s special about special cargo is the extreme versatility and the challenge of moving cargo that sometimes looks unmoveable. And despite the industrial feel of the segment, the human touch remains instrumental.

“I truly believe that one of the main reasons we are winning a lot of business in Maersk Line is because we have a specialised team that is able to deliver specialised service,” says Rosemary Roach.

Fleet increased

With spezialised teams in US, Netherlands and China, Nikolaj Forsberg explains that the global special cargo team has undergone a thorough transformation during the past two years.

“We have been through quite a lot of changes since the majority of the special cargo team moved from London to centre or one of our regional offices 18 months ago. We have standardised and optimised most processes and have the bandwidth to increase the volumes. Last March, we built new equipment that increased our fleet of Open Tops by about 25%,” explains Forsberg.

Equipment availability in particular has turned into one of the strongest selling points for the Maersk Line special cargo team. Having the right containers, racks or flatbeds ready is essential in a business that tends to always need just a little more space.

Oversized but not disruptive

Nikolaj Forsberg emphasises that one of the reasons why the special cargo segment is doing so well is the fact that carrying this type of cargo runs smoothly alongside all other types of Maersk Line business. “There seems to be this perception that carrying special cargo is disruptive to the rest of the Maersk Line business. But it is important to remember that 92% of Special cargo is unitized, for which the load time is equal or less than dry as a global average, when displacements of the cargo is taken into consideration,” Forsberg says.